Reading as an Escape from Reality

 Book cover art by Edward Gorey

To me, reading is a great way to escape the daily rush. Wandering to a different world just by opening up a chapter and reading from sentence to sentence, I get to decide the pace. With a book in front of your nose, you can allow yourself to just ignore the world around you for a moment, or for hours, or for an entire day. 

When escaping reality, you take yourself to a different reality to dwell in for a while. Different genres go along with different kinds of worlds, some closer to our reality than others. Take, for example, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and a memoir, such as Becoming by Michelle Obama. It’s the most ridiculous comparison in the world, I know. But my point is that even though most people would probably be more inclined to think of the first book when they think about escaping to a different reality, the memoir can do the trick just as well. Even though the story of a memoir takes place in the same world as the reader’s, it is still someone else’s reality. An escape from reality doesn’t have to be to a fictional world: it can be to someone else’s as well.

Even though it can be incredibly rewarding, escapism often has a negative connotation. Things like social media, games, and the internet in general are common forms of modern escapism that are often criticized. It’s clear that there are negative sides to escapism, for instance, when it’s starting to become an unhealthy coping mechanism in the form of addiction. And I must agree, it does seem sad to only live in books (or games, etc.) at the expense of living your own life and being out there. But in between extremes, it should add something without taking over your life.

You might have come across the following quote by George R.R. Martin: “I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.” This often-used quote is an example of how we don’t just disappear when we escape; we build upon our own lives by what we learn from those other realities. By reading, you live someone else’s story. It helps you reflect, be involved in things you wouldn’t otherwise be involved in, and gain new insights. 

Beyond reading, there are, of course, many other activities that are largely based on fiction. It’s not just reading that brings you to fictional experiences. But if so many things are based on fiction, why do we get so invested in them?

In the chapter “The Legend of Peugeot” in the book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari explains that fiction has always been an important part of our lives. He makes clear that even the arbitrary things in our lives are purely fictional and that we don’t always realize that this division of reality and imagination is not that clear-cut. Instead of fiction just being something fun to take your mind off of things, fiction is and has always been an important part of humanity’s development and ability to communicate with each other. Harari uses the company Peugeot as an example of this: without everyone believing they are a company, and the laws that make them a company, they will not be one. Additionally, it is easier to ‘know’ your CEO, because of the fictional rules that belong to their role. In short, fiction and reality are closely related and the boundaries between them are sometimes a bit of a grey area. By believing in the fiction we come up with, we make it our reality.

Now with the current coronavirus going on, escapism is even more important to us. We’re all confronted with difficulties, we are all trying to get away from either boredom, restlessness from staying at home or being way too busy and the negative and depressing news we hear every day. And even though it is important to keep in touch with what’s happening in the world around us, I am very grateful to be able to step out of it and into my books once in a while. Though it might seem like you’re not being productive when immersing yourself in fiction, be it by film, music, games or books, remember that fiction is and has always been very important to us. So important, it sometimes becomes our reality.


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